Nobody wants to touch ‘cursed’ Chelsea No 9 shirt, admits Thomas Tuchel

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<span>Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA</span>
Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

Thomas Tuchel has admitted “nobody wants to touch” the Chelsea No 9 shirt vacated by Romelu Lukaku because of a “curse” that stretches back to the days of Fernando Torres.

Lukaku rejoined Internazionale on loan in June after returning to Stamford Bridge in a club-record £97.5m deal and scoring only 15 goals in 44 appearances last season. Chelsea, who completed the signing of Marc Cucurella from Brighton on Friday in a deal that could reach £62m, are considering a move for Barcelona’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after last month rejecting an opportunity to sign Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United.

Related: Football transfer window summer 2022 – Europe’s top five men’s leagues

The No 9 shirt has been worn by several world-class strikers who have not lived up to expectations, including Torres, who managed 20 goals in more than 100 Premier League appearances between 2011 and 2014, Radamel Falcao, Álvaro Morata, Gonzalo Higuaín and Lukaku. Tuchel revealed it had gained a reputation for failure at Chelsea.

“It’s cursed, it’s cursed, people tell me it’s cursed,” he said. “It’s not the case that we leave it open for tactical reasons, for some players in the pipeline that come in and naturally take it.

“There was not a big demand for No 9. Players sometimes want to change numbers but, surprisingly, nobody wants to touch it. Everybody who is longer than me in the club tells me: ‘Ah, you know, like he had the 9 and he did not score and he had the 9 and did also not score.’ So we now we have a moment where nobody wants to touch the No 9.”

Chelsea's No 9 'curse' is nothing new – Mick Harford, Mark Stein, Gianluca Vialli and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink delivered goals while wearing the number, but since 2004 the shirt has been passed through several misfiring strikers – with midfielder Steve Sidwell and defender Khalid Boulahrouz also failing to impress in No 9. Since Hasselbaink, only Tammy Abraham in 2019-20 has top-scored for Chelsea in the Premier League wearing the number. 

1992-93 Mick Harford
1993-94 Tony Cascarino
1994-96 Mark Stein
1996-99 Gianluca Vialli
1999-00 Chris Sutton
2000-04 Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink
2004-05 Mateja Kezman
2005-06 Hernán Crespo
2006-07 Khalid Boulahrouz
2007-08 Steve Sidwell
2008-10 Franco Di Santo
2011-15 Ferran Torres
2015-16 Radamel Falcao
2017-18 Álvaro Morata
2018-19 Gonzalo Higuaín
2019-21 Tammy Abraham
2021-22 Romelu Lukaku

The manager was asked whether he would like to sign a striker, after refusing to comment on Aubameyang, who he managed at Borussia Dortmund. “Let’s see and check it out,” he said. “We come from this curse of No 9; I’m also superstitious, I can understand why players maybe don’t touch it and have other preferences. It’s like this, but I think Raheem [Sterling] will help us a lot and in general it’s our responsibility to create more offensive positions to have maybe a bit more players in the box.”

Chelsea are expected to step up their pursuit of the Leicester defender Wesley Fofana after their £60m offer was rejected this week but Tuchel said he had been focusing on Saturday’s trip to Everton after what he described as a “turbulent” summer of transfer dealings working with the co-owner and stand-in director of football, Todd Boehly.

“You can get lost in all these names and opportunities and suddenly you end up playing a 2-7-1 or whatever,” he said. “You need to refocus and have a cold shower and calm down – or I have to – and then you go: ‘OK, let’s go back where we needed. What do we need for the squad and what kind of personality and what kind of talent do we need?’ And this is how it more or less goes.”

Tuchel added: “It was quite turbulent as well in here, I have to say. It was important with the new season starting: do we still try something? No. It’s Everton now and that process has helped everybody to calm down. Seeing that we are succeeding in the market also calmed me down and there’s been give and take for everybody. The strength of Chelsea is calmness from inside and also outside and we need to reach that status again.”

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